an adventure that traverses the United States, beginning in New York
City and ending in California? The journey starts with a nerdy young
hero who wears glasses “as a precaution more than a necessity” and
carries a suitcase full of physics texts. Right away there’s an
unexpected dust up with a female nightclub entertainer, then a race
to escape Mafioso goons who’ll kill to get an enigmatic artifact.
Down the road are varied obstacles and dealings with a mixed bag of
self-absorbed eccentrics. Will Brian Basco somehow manage to keep
himself and his beautiful companion from being caught and tortured?
Will he live long enough to feast his eyes on the Golden Gate Bridge
and UC Berkeley?
Runaway opens with one of the most beautiful sequences I have seen
in a game. The theme song (which I still can’t get out of my head)
plays in the background while the camera pans over the New Jersey
suburbs and zooms toward the dark purple skyline, framed by
thousands of rectangles of light.
The graphics in Runaway are cartoon-like, colorful but soft-hued.
Although the game features locations from sea to shining sea, much
of the action takes place against the stylized vistas and sculpted
rock formations of the American southwest. Skies are sprinkled with
puffy clouds that recall the Monkey Island games.
The game is third person perspective with mouse control. Use of the
inventory is easy – there is even a nice bit of business where Brian
appears on the inventory screen, then disappears as he rummages
through different containers. Character movement is smooth. It’s
easy to steer Brian around, and large directional arrows make it
convenient to exit locations. Shadows during character movement show
the designers’ unusual attention to finer details in the game.
Runaway contains some tough pixel hunts. Key hotspots are often
small, and certain items blend in perfectly with their surroundings.
Occasionally an item can be used on a hotspot only after you hit a
trigger in the game – if something obvious doesn’t work, you should
come back later in the game and try again. There will also be
moments when you will have that “Well why CAN’T I use X with Y?”
experience (i.e., why CAN’T I use the scalpel on the corpse to get
the maggots?). Still, the game does a pretty good job of guiding you
on your mission in each area, and once you hit on the right
combinations of items/hotspots, you can easily see why they work.
Interiors are packed with detail. There is stuff everywhere. Is this
is commentary on the American urge to acquire enough possessions for
five lifetimes? Even if it isn’t, it’s inspired because there is so
much to look at and so many places to hide those hotspots. There’s
tool stuff in a deserted hut, cowboy stuff in an abandoned jail,
explosive stuff in a derelict train car. And those are the
unoccupied places. There’s a museum crammed with ancient stuff. A
bus jammed with pop-icon stuff. My favorite – Mama Dorita’s place,
where you’ll find the ultimate in ethno-religio-historio-stuffusion.
Did I mention that Runaway is funny? Yes, despite the goons dogging
our hero’s footsteps and the occasional scenes of ruthless cartoon
violence, there are parts of Runaway that made me laugh out loud.
Most of the hilarity occurs as you interact with the characters – a
cadre of over-the-top American stereotypes, some of whom manage to
transcend the game’s satiric bent. There’s always more there than
first meets the eye, whether it’s certain blonde mayor or even a
hulking bouncer. And as for Willy the night janitor – haven’t I met
him in real life? This is a game in which appearances are deceptive.
Nothing is exactly as it seems. By the end everyone in the game has
“evolved” (or devolved).
Another interesting aspect of Runaway is that on one level the game
lives at the movies. There are movie references everywhere.
Characters quote the movies, analyze the strengths of film directors
and make life decisions based on cinematic advice. There’s even one
puzzle that’s so reminiscent of a certain movie that THIS gamer fell
into a wide-open red-herring-trap, making the puzzle much harder
than it had to be.
The game’s strengths take time to develop. There were a few places
early on where I thought the writing stiff and the characterizations
pointlessly exaggerated. The game seemed at first to be trying too
hard. But by the time I reached the Close Encounters chapter, the
game had me in the palm of its hand.
The main female protagonist is side-lined for much of the game.
Although there are additional fun characters to meet, spending time
with Gina would have made the plot more satisfying.
Now for the ending: Runaway’s final moments are better than those of
most adventure games. The fulfillment of the quest is shown in a
series of cinematic cutscenes. I did feel let-down by one aspect of
the ending, though for the same reason I was disappointed by the
ending of Ivanhoe. Just because you’re a hero doesn’t mean you
always make the right choices.
Nevertheless, remember the name: Basco. Brian Basco.
Third person perspective, mouse control. Colorful, cartoon-like
graphics with lots of detail. Puzzle difficulty: average. No
sliders, no mazes, no timed puzzles, one sound puzzle. Inventory
puzzles and pixel hunts. Plenty of dialogue. Entertaining plot,
decent voice acting. Funny manual. Although other characters in the
game can die, the main character does not. Unlimited saves. The game
was stable – the only glitch was a repeating cutscene. Game length:
just shy of average. Aimed at gamers who enjoy third-person quests
with absurd situations and odd-ball characters.
Final Grade: B+
design copyright © 2003